William S. Hart Union High School District

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Rod Bennett Memorial Scholarship Created to Honor Fallen Teacher, Musician

The Rod Bennett Memorial Scholarship Trust Fund was set up by his wife, Valerie Pryor, and will launch in January 2017.

Bennett, a much-loved band director, music teacher and math instructor at Arroyo Seco Junior High School in Valencia, was also an active performing and recording musician, avid sportsman, seasoned traveler and wine connoisseur.

He was riding his bicycle on Placerita Canyon Road in Newhall when he was struck and killed by a car driven by an impaired driver on May 25, 2016. Bennett was just 53. In November, the driver was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Bennett and Pryor met in 1985, when both attended UCLA and played in the marching band. They married seven years later, in 1992, and enjoyed an especially close and happy relationship, sharing a love for travel, music, sports and wine (not necessarily in that order). Pryor, a Valencia resident, is administrative services manager/chief financial officer at Castaic Lake Water Agency.

“As a math and music teacher, Rod gave so much to the Santa Clarita community, and I want to honor him by continuing to give in his name,” Pryor said.

“Music and teaching meant so much to him, and teaching the students music and seeing them discover and grow in music meant a lot to him,” she said. “I want to continue his contributions to the community."

Pryor will inaugurate the Rod Bennett Memorial Music Scholarship Trust Fund with two $2,000 scholarships to be awarded by the Santa Clarita Valley Scholarship Foundation in May at the Senior Awards at the individual school sites. The 501(c)3 nonprofit organization grants up to $250,000 in scholarships each year to graduating seniors attending Hart District high schools.

The initial $2,000 grants will go to students who have spent at least two years in a Hart District music program in the high school band, preferably at Arroyo Seco and/or Saugus High School, and intend to continue their education at a two- or four-year college. Preference would be given to college-bound students who plan to study or major in music and/or music education.

For the long term, Pryor has set up the Rod Bennett Memorial Scholarship Trust Fund as a division of the Charitysmith Nonprofit Foundation (EIN 87-0636433).

“That way, others whose lives Rod touched, or who want to support the kind of music mentoring he did, can donate to the scholarship trust fund as well,” Pryor said. “I will also continue to donate to the fund, and as it grows, I can offer additional scholarships.”

As one can imagine, Bennett’s sudden death devastated Pryor and his family, and hit the Santa Clarita Valley community hard, especially his young students, who revered him not only as a teacher, but also as a musical mentor.

Beyond his regular classes, Bennett opened his Arroyo Seco classroom to music students during lunch and after school, hosting an informal “rock club” where the kids could jam and rehearse.

“By donating to this fund, especially during the holidays, people can give the gift of education and especially music education to deserving students who embody the love for and dedication to music that was so much a part of Rod’s life,” Pryor said.

To contribute to the Rod Bennett Memorial Scholarship Trust Fund, go to RodBennettMemorialFund.org and click on the “donate now” button.

Hart School District seniors graduating in 2017 may apply for one of the $2,000 inaugural Rod Bennett Memorial Scholarships at scvsf.org. Click “apply” and download the application. The completed application must be returned to the Counseling Department at the high school of attendance no later than 3 p.m. on Wednesday, February 1. Late applications will not be accepted.

“My hope, my mission,” Pryor said, “is that through these students, and with the generosity and support of this trust fund by those who cared for Rod, his legacy will continue to make music for generations.”

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